16 and she's already had a face lift. Find out why
A teenager who suffers from a rare genetic condition which made her look midde-aged has transformed her life - with a face lift.
Zara Hartshorn, 16, endured years of cruel comments and even physical abuse aimed at her aged appearance. But after undergoing cosmetic surgery Zara has regained her youth, and has even found love with a new boyfriend.
Zara's condition, Cutis Laxa, only affects 30 people in the UK - and also blights her mum, Tracey Gibson, 44, and sister Jolene Hardy, 24.
The trio has spent their lives being mistaken for women decades older and suffering from associated ailments such as heart and liver defects.
By the time she was 12, Zara was already being mistaken for a middle-aged woman - and was even mistaken for 17-year-old sister Chloe's mum.
The schoolgirl was once left in tears after being turfed off a bus for not being able to prove she was eligible for a child's ticket. But now thanks to a lifeline by a surgeon in the US Zara is indistinguishable from her peers.
"Before I had surgery I was picked on for looking different, now I look the same as other girls my age," said Zara.
I don't feel like people are staring at me when I walk down the street anymore. I finally feel like a teenager. I've carried some hurtful comments with me all my life but now I feel ready to leave the past behind and forgive and forget.
The icing on the cake for Zara was finding love with apprentice painter and decorator Ricky, 22, three months ago. They met through mutual friends.
"I've had boyfriends in the the past but I don't think any accepted my condition, really. But with Ricky it's never been an issue," said Zara. "He's seen pictures of me before and told me I was always beautiful - although I wouldn't have had the self-confidence to believe him before."
Growing up Zara put her rapid aging down to lipodystrophy - a genetic illness which decays bones and destroys fat beneath the skin.
At four doctors told her she had inherited the condition from mum Tracey after she developed excess skin round her jawline.
"Mum explained that I had an illness like she did, but that I was beautiful and shouldn't pay any attention to what anyone said.
"The bullying was worst between the ages of eight and 10. Kids used to call me monkey and granny and I was even beaten up just because of how I looked. It got so bad I stopped going for a while."
But even after changing schools Zara's life was made a misery because of her illness.
"I lived in fear of being asked how old I was," said Zara. "I was even mistaken for a teacher in school on a couple of occasions, which was just mortifying in front of my classmates."
After Zara's plight was made public she was contacted by lipodystrophy expert Dr Abhimanyu Garg, from Texas, US, who asked to carry out some tests on Zara and Tracey.
They were found to be suffering from Cutis Laxa, an even rarer condition which can shorten life expectancy, weaken joints and can cause lung and heart problems.
Although hard news to take in, Zara was later presented with the offer of a face lift and nose augmentation free of charge by top surgeon Dr Robert Ersek.
"It was an amazing opportunity that I could never of dreamed of before," said Zara."When I saw myself in the mirror after the bandages all came off it was mixture of surprise and happiness. I used to hate my nose, but now I love it. I feel much more confident and just happier in general.
I'm now able to do things like going to college and having a career which I might not have felt possible before. The surgery has given me a boost and now I don't fear what other people think. I've noticed a change in me and I feel a lot happier.
Zara attributes her achievement to devoted mum Tracey who has always dreamed of this for her daughter:
"I know I'm lucky to have had the opportunity and it's something my mum would have loved to have been offered. I want to make something of my life for her - to make her proud.
"I know I'll always have this condition and it may shorten my life, but at least I can feel more like comfortable and confident. Although I look younger I still feel older than my years because of everything I have been through."
Help! I'm 16 but look 60: Extraordinary People, Thursday 27th June, 9pm on Channel 5.
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